Chickenpox vaccine could be added to childhood immunisation schedule

A growing number of countries have added the vaccine to routine childhood programme

An assessment is underway on whether to include the chickenpox vaccine in the State’s childhood immunisation programme.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has published the protocol for its newest health technology assessment (HTA) of the addition of the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine to the routine childhood immunisation schedule.

The protocol describes the approach Hiqa’s team will use to complete this piece of work.

The authority said it had agreed to undertake this assessment following a request from the Department of Health, which was supported by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac).

Varicella-zoster virus can cause two clinical syndromes: chickenpox, as a result of primary (initial) infection, and shingles, which typically occurs in later life due to reactivation of the virus, Hiqa said.

Chickenpox is a common infectious disease that mainly affects children - one case of chickenpox can potentially infect 10 to 12 people. Within EU/EEA countries, the annual incidence of chickenpox is typically equivalent to the birth cohort; the total number of births in Ireland annually is approximately 56,000.

Dr Conor Teljeur, Hiqa’s chief scientist said: “A vaccine for chickenpox was first developed almost 50 years ago. Over the last 30 years, a growing number of countries around the world have added the chickenpox vaccine to their routine childhood immunisation schedules.

“In Ireland, the vaccine is currently recommended for non-immune individuals in certain risk groups. Our assessment will examine the impact of adding the vaccine to the childhood immunisation schedule.”

In the US, Canada, Australia and Japan, the chickenpox vaccine is part of their routine childhood vaccination programmes. However, the vaccine is not included in the NHS routine vaccination schedule for children in the UK and is only offered to people who are in close contact with someone who is particularly vulnerable to chickenpox or its complications.

A department of health spokeswoman told the Irish Times that Niac would continue to revise recommendations around the introduction of new vaccines in Ireland and to keep abreast of changes in the patterns of disease. Therefore, the immunisation schedule will “continue to be amended over time”, she said.

The findings of the HIQA assessment will inform a decision by the Department of Health regarding whether or not to include a chickenpox vaccine in the national immunisation programme, said the spokeswoman.